On Tuesday, June 6th, my little niece will be celebrating her first birthday, the first anniversary of her entering this world and marking the completion of her first orbit around the Sun. We celebrated her birthday a few days early, on Saturday the 3rd.
What has happened in that first orbit?
I remember entering that hospital room with my parents just a few hours after she was born and nervously approaching her mother to give her a blanket I had knit for her (the Hoover blanket from Knitty). She was crying her lungs out (probably wondering “What the heck am I doing here?!”), and about the only thing that could calm her down at that point was my brother (her father) holding her and patting her on the bum. I was too nervous to hold my newborn niece and decided to hold off from it.
The first time I actually held her was about two weeks later, when the new family had finally had some time to settle into their new life. My parents and I made the two-mile trip from our home to the duplex that my brother’s family called theirs. It had been many years since I had held a baby as young as her, and I was still nervous. As my dad reminded me to hold her head above the plane of her body, I finally got a chance to look into my niece’s gemstone-blue eyes. Her cries had calmed since she was born and had become a somewhat calm baby, and she was no different in my arms. She looked up at me with a curious look on her face, as if I was a puzzle she was trying to solve. This curious look would reoccur throughout our interactions in this first orbit.
The next time I remember seeing her was maybe a few months later, when my brother turned 27 last November. By this point, she was able to lay on her belly, but not crawl. One of the highlights of this visit (other than the birthday cake my brother’s girlfriend got for him) was watching my little niece sitting in my dad’s lap, him holding her tiny hands and she doing what I can best describe as “baby squats” (for those not in the “Having Raised or Interacted With a Baby” club, baby squats are when said baby stands up with assistance on a person’s lap, and then drops right back down into a sitting position). She was grabbing at my dad’s shirt (as a smoker, he wears pocket tees on a daily basis, and many of them have screen printed designs on them), and just having the time of her life trying to figure out her Grandpa’s furry face (yep, my dad has a beard).
Regrettably, I missed her first Christmas. A couple of days before the big day, my parents brought over a couple of presents we had gotten for her online, but I was sleeping when they decided to leave. I was a bit sad that I ended up missing it, but grateful that I got the extra sleep.
I didn’t see her again until February. By this point she was crawling and standing herself up with assistance. And we had seen her again just a few weeks ago in order to deliver her some much-needed new clothes, as she was growing so fast that she was already needing to wear clothes usually meant for 18-24 month-olds (both of her parents are taller than me, which would not surprise me that she’s growing so fast). At our last visit, she was able to walk around while holding on to something and making baby talk.
Which brings me to today…
Yesterday, we had gotten her some birthday presents (a toy drum, some textured spiky rubber balls, and a toy picnic basket, along with a couple of sets of pajamas and a dress) and we also gotten some ingredients to make a slow cooker baked beans recipe my dad found online. I awoke this morning to the smell of bacon, which I knew was being cooked for the beans. My dad had cooked and crumbled the bacon, chopped up an onion, and mixed together all of the ingredients for a four-hour odyssey in our slow cooker before we would take the whole thing to my brother’s house. We took our turns showering, dressing, and getting things just right for our little trip. I don’t have any photos of the party, so what you get is a selfie of me waiting for the time to come to leave for the party.
After a quick trip to the store to get beverages, we made our way down to my brother’s place. We were the first guests to arrive. We got the slow cooker plugged in and warming up the beans, while we found a place for her presents. After a few minutes, more guests began to filter in (most of them from my brother’s girlfriend’s side of the family) until somewhere around 20 of us filled their living room and kitchen, including a baby, a toddler, and a tween (who was the older sister of the toddler). It was at this point that we learned my niece had finally started walking on her own (although she still needs assistance from tall things to stand up if she falls over). It was later that I found out she’d only been walking for about two weeks, so she was still learning to straighten out the wobbles, but my…she can run. We socialized and got to know some of my brother’s girlfriend’s family members, some of us drank beers (myself included…I treated myself to one Yuengling lager, and the rest of my drinks were colas), and we all ate from a delicious potluck spread that included hamburgers that my brother cooked on a charcoal grill that honestly were so smooth to bite through that it was like a hot knife meeting butter for the first time; hot dogs and smoked whole chicken also cooked by my brother on the grill; mashed sweet potatoes with chopped pecans; pasta and potato salads, and one of my favorite foods of all time (any Southerners here may agree with me): some Publix chicken wings, double breaded and deep fried to a crispy but not oily bite with the most tenderly cooked meat for this particular cut of chicken (my goodness, my family used to make a thing of eating these when I was a kid; we don’t eat them as often anymore, but it is still a wonderful treat when we do).
After the food came time for my niece to receive her presents. In addition to ours, she also received some additional toys, including a baby doll and a ride and push toy shaped like a lion; a few pairs of earrings for her little ears, and a miniature sofa bed with some Disney princesses on it.
Shortly after the presents, her mother placed my niece in her high chair and we sang her Happy Birthday as her own special cake was brought to her. It was a small, round cake covered in green frosting with red frosting writing and accents: this was her smashing cake. With a little encouragement, she dug her diminutive hands into her cake and went to town, licking the cake and frosting off of her tiny fingers. Once the cake was sufficiently smashed, her hands and face were absolutely covered, which meant that her parents had to wash all that off of her. As she got sufficiently clean, we guests were then treated to our own cake and some ice cream. The cake was a two layer chocolate and vanilla sheet cake with buttercream frosting, and we had a choice between vanilla and Neapolitan ice cream (I chose vanilla, and it was quite rich). Not long after that, most of the guests filtered out while my parents and I joined my brother on his back porch and talked and drank cold drinks in the muggy heat. By the time we got back inside, we were the last guests remaining. We weren’t in a hurry, so we gathered in their living room as my niece’s parents cleaned up the scene of the earlier party and put the baby gates back in their usual places. We watched my niece play with her new presents and talked about anything and everything. It was 7:00 PM before we finally decided to leave, a full 6 hours after her party began, and we said our see-ya-laters and love-yous, taking with us our slow cooker and some leftover cake.
As I sit here, watching my Red Sox play the Orioles, I look back on the experience of my little niece’s first orbit around the sun, and it makes me wonder what is in store for her second. She officially completes her first orbit on Tuesday. We each only get a certain number of orbits around the sun, and it makes us all wonder: do we all get the best out of ours? Because I sincerely hope my niece gets all the best out of hers.